Legal judgment involving the City of East Palo Alto leaves mixed feelings
By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted on April 1, 2009
The City of East Palo Alto received yet another blow in its legal struggle with Page Mill Properties. This time, after losing several court cases with the company, the city was ordered to pay the legal fees incurred by Page Mill Properties’ attorneys.
In a hearing that took place on Friday, March 27, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman ordered the City of East Palo Alto to pay $472,000 to compensate Page Mill Properties for its legal expenses.
As considerable as this figure appears, it could have been even higher, since Page Mill Properties’ attorneys had asked for $732,000, to cover the services of three law firms which had represented the company in its lawsuits against the city.
While disappointed with the judge’s decision, Valerie Armento, the interim city attorney for East Palo Alto, was satisfied that the city was able to get a substantial portion of Page Mill Properties’ original request reduced.
As the largest holder of rental apartments in East Palo Alto, Page Mill Properties has been embroiled in an ongoing battle with the city and its residents over continuous rent increases that the company has made. East Palo Alto’s rent ordinance was a major issue in the legal disputes.
Armento said that Section 15 of the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Ordinance does, in fact, stipulate that the losing party to a lawsuit, brought under the ordinance, should pay the winning party's legal fees. But, she said this section of the ordinance refers to lawsuits between tenants and landlords and it does not refer to lawsuits involving the city. In making her ruling, the judge interpreted the ordinance broadly, Armento said.
In general, the city’s rent ordinance needs to be rewritten, since “It has not kept pace with the changes in the law in the past 25 years,” Armento said.
Jim Shore, who is the general counsel for the company said, “We’re pleased that the court awarded us the attorney’s fees. What’s more important is repairing our relationship with the city. We both share a strong desire to improve the lives of the citizens of the city, and we, sincerely, hope to work with the city and start a new relationship now that this dispute has concluded.”
When asked about the city’s next steps regarding the legal issues with Page Mill Properties, Armento said that the City of East Palo Alto plans to pay the legal fees promptly, as soon as it gets the final order from the court.
As to the lawsuits, she said, “In January, Page Mill Properties filed a suit against the city. Page Mill sues us even when we don’t do anything. I don’t know what the thinking is.”
In expressing Page Mill Properties’ intentions, Shore said, “In terms of looking forward, we want to focus on what we can do together for the citizens of East Palo Alto. We have high hopes that the city shares that sentiment as well.”